In its final meeting of the year, the Palo Alto City Council is preparing to approve a new contract with the city's independent police auditors that explicitly excludes investigations of conflicts between officers.
The council's consideration of the new contract was added to its Dec. 16 agenda on Thursday night, as part of a revised agenda for the meeting. The agenda was initially published on Dec. 5 and did not include that item. It also did not initially include proposed raises for City Attorney Molly Stump and City Clerk Beth Minor or a $4 million contribution from the city to help City Manager Ed Shikada buy a home within Palo Alto. The three contract amendments were similarly placed on the agenda on Thursday night.
The council's proposed $75,000 contract with the firm OIR Group would extend the agreement with the police auditors for three years. The two auditors, Michael Gennaco and Stephen Connolly, have been providing independent reviews of the Palo Alto Police Department's internal affairs investigations since 2006. They investigate every case of use of force and all citizen complaints against department officers, though they don't name officers.
The new contract will also clarify for the first time that the auditor will not look at police activities that do not involve members of the public. A report from the City Auditor's Office notes that a question arose this year regarding whether the auditors should review these types of cases.
"This type of matter could include complaints by PAPD personnel with respect to their supervisors or co-workers regarding unfair or discriminatory treatment in areas such as assignments, overtime, training promotion or interpersonal conduct," the report states.
Rather than have an independent auditor look into these cases, the city decided that the function should be performed by the Human Resources Department and barred from public disclosure. The decision to reconsider the city's policy on internal investigations was made shortly after the Palo Alto Daily Post reported in May on allegations that police Capt. Zach Perron used a racial slur in 2014 when talking to another officer. That officer, Marcus Barbour, has since left the Palo Alto Police Department and joined the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. The OIR Group was reportedly reviewing the case.
When asked about the 2014 incident, Palo Alto's Chief Communications Officer Meghan Horrigan-Taylor said the city cannot comment on personnel matters. The recommended contract, she said, "confirms and clarifies the longstanding traditional scope of IPA review of PD internal affairs investigations and deployment of a taser device."
"The City Manager, Chief of Police and police auditor have had discussions over the past few months over whether the auditor's scope of work should expand to include personnel matters, and a decision has been reached to continue the status quo," Horrigan-Taylor said, notwithstanding the fact that the new contract now contains a section excluding internal personnel matters.
In explaining its reason for excluding internal personnel matters from audits, the City Attorney's Office cited an interest in "protecting the privacy of sworn personnel so that these employees can do their work without concern about risk or intrusions into the personal and family affairs," despite the fact that the audits don't name the officers whose conduct they are reviewing. "In addition, the City has an obligation to maintain a confidential human resources system, so that employees feel safe coming forward to make complaints or to provide information in an investigation that involves their co-workers or supervisors."
In addition to approving the new contract, the council also plans to approve a 5% raise for Stump, bringing her salary to $313,414, and a 4.25% raise for Minor, bringing her salary to $159,182. It also plans to provide a $3 million contribution and a $1 million loan to City Manager Ed Shikada to help him buy a house in Palo Alto.
Shikada's contract with the city requires him to make his primary residence in Palo Alto "within a reasonable period of time." The contract doesn't spell out the city's obligation to help pay for his home but states that "the amount of the City contribution and any contribution from Shikada, the method of financing, and other elements of a purchase transaction will be determined through good faith negotiations and mutual agreement."
With the contribution, the city would become an investor in the property, which it would jointly own with Shikada based on how much each has invested. A report from Human Resources Department notes that the city "holds a high value of the City Manager living in Palo Alto." With the city's median home prices now at $2.8 million, the investment of $3 million in public funds "addresses the substantial housing challenges we face as a city with one of the highest costs for housing in the nation."
"Close proximity increases the Manager’s availability to respond to community issues, supports the
successful management of City operations and ensures the Manager is an integral part
of our community," the report states. "As a result, the City Council is committed to this financial support for